Today, at its annual Galaxy Unpacked hardware event in San Francisco, Samsung announced its flagship (read: very expensive!) line of Galaxy phones, as well as a few more affordable alternatives and a smattering of other accessories.
The company also unveiled the Galaxy Z Flip, its second stab at a folding phone after the much-maligned Galaxy Fold. The Galaxy Z Flip was teased during Sunday night’s Oscars broadcast, but Samsung was holding the formal announcement for its own hyped-up event.
Samsung’s glitzy gala comes at a turbulent time for phone companies. Smartphone sales have been slow for a while, and makers are trying to get those numbers up by doubling down on expensive “pro” models, testing experimental form factors, and—craziest of all—releasing phones that are actually affordable, in markets where premium typically sells.
The event is also happening as the world is keeping a close watch on the coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,000 people so far. Its macroeconomic impact is widespread as well. According to a report released last week by technology analyst Canalys, the coronavirus could cut smartphone production in half. Samsung execs have already pulled back from the Mobile World Congress conference scheduled for later in February, as other companies including LG, Nvidia, and Amazon have canceled entirely. Still, Samsung is pushing forward, hoping its release of a $1,000 phone is the good news people are looking for.
You can watch the whole event here, or read on for the most important stuff.
The next chapter of Samsung’s bendy phone odyssey is about to unfold. The company first teased its folding phone in a commercial Sunday night during the Academy Awards. Early reports (aka leaks) suggested that it would be called the Galaxy Z Flip. Today, Samsung confirmed this. The Galaxy Z Flip is the latest folding device from the smartphone giant.
At first glance, the Flip is a different beast than the Galaxy Fold. For one, the Fold had a vertical hinge, so it peeled open like a book. The Flip instead folds from top to bottom, like an old, you know, flip phone. It also looks similar to the folding Motorola Razr reboot, though the Z Flip’s display looks rather elongated.
Differences aside, it’s clear that companies are moving forward with folding screen technology that can fit in one hand. The Galaxy Z Flip also advances the form a bit—its hinge can be situated halfway open, so it looks like a miniature laptop. That lets you enjoy a hands-free video chat, or shoot a time-lapse video without a tripod.
The Z Flip starts at $1,380 when it becomes available on February 14.
The Unpacked event is still ongoing, so check back soon for details. We’ll post updates as we learn more about the Flip.
Samsung’s new Galaxy S20 line presents some more practical options. There are three phones, each slightly larger than the last. The S20 and its big sibling, the S20 Plus, are the successors to last year’s Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus. Other than size, price, and some differing 5G options, the two models are identical.
But Samsung has shaken things up this year by offering a third option: The Galaxy S20 Ultra. It’s a huge, shiny brick of a phone, with blazing fast internal specs and a spider-eyed monstrosity of a camera on the back. The S20 and S20 Plus have a 6.2-inch display and a 6.7-inch display, respectively, while the S20 Ultra has a 6.9-inch display. The Ultra is also thicker than its sibling phones.
You can read hands-on impressions of the Galaxy S line of phones from our colleague Julian Chokkattu.
Each phone has an AMOLED display with 120 Hz refresh rate (though that faster refresh rate applies to HD content only, not 4K), and a super responsive touch sensor for people looking to absolutely destroy some Candy Crush. The phones come with 128 GB of storage space (expandable up to 512 GB on the Ultra) and allow for microSD cards up to 1 TB. All phones are running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865, a seven-nanometer, 64-bit octa-core chip.
Samsung says the Galaxy S20 phones are all 5G-ready, whenever the wireless tech happens to roll out more broadly. There is a slight variation in 5G support across the phones. The S20 (the “cheap” phone, haha) supports sub-6-Ghz 5G, while the other two phones will support both sub-6 and millimeter-wave 5G networks. Both are technically 5G, but devices that support multiple 5G bands are expected to offer the superfast downlink speeds that have been promised with this next-generation wireless standard.
Not one of these new Galaxy phones is cheap. The starting price is the same as the most expensive model from last year. The S20 is $1,000, the S20 Plus is $1,200, and the S20 Ultra is an astounding $1,400. They all go on presale on February 21 and will be in stores March 6. Samsung says the phones will be offered by all major US carriers.
Phones are all about the cameras these days, so Samsung knows it has to bring it when it comes to its flagship phones. The S20 and S20 Plus both have three rear camera lenses—a wide, an ultra-wide, and a telephoto lens with a 64-megapixel sensor. The Ultra camera face has more holes than a Wiffle ball, with three lenses (including a 108-megapixel wide), a flash, and a time-of-flight sensor for detecting distance. The S20 and S20 Plus have 10-megapixel front-facing cameras, while the S20 Ultra has a 40-megapixel selfie camera, something nobody has asked for. These lenses are impossibly tiny pinholes on the front display of the phones.
By default, the rear cameras will capture 12-megapixel stills. But these larger sensors—Samsung says the camera sensor in each model is larger than the one in each previous phone—mean higher-resolution photos and better low-light capture in general. When you click the shutter, as many as 30 images are being processed into one optimal composite photo.
The tantalizing feature of the S20 line is something Samsung calls Space Zoom—a super-magnified optical zoom lens. It zooms in up to 30 times on the S20 and S20 Plus. On the Ultra, Space Zoom goes up to a downright ridiculous 100X magnification. After taking some test shots, it’s clear that anything beyond 10X suffers noticeable degradation in quality; 100 is a nice round number to put on your marketing materials, but we’ll see if people use it as anything more than a novelty.
All three phones capture 8K video and have “anti-rolling” stabilization, a kind of next-gen image stabilization that doesn’t just smooth out bumps and shakes but also rolling motions, the kind you might experience in certain action sports. Another camera feature that seems like it would actually be handy is something called single take mode. With it, you press the shutter button and hold the camera on the scene playing out before you. Samsung’s software then pulls out what it thinks are the best moments and saves them into several photo and video options that you can keep or discard.
See our hands-on report with the Galaxy phones for more about the cameras.
If for some reason $1,000 sounds like an crazy amount of money to spend on a phone, Samsung’s got some more down-to-earth options. First, the excellent Galaxy S10 line is still available. One of those will run you between $600 and $850, depending on the model. An even more-affordable option is the Galaxy A50, which starts at $300 for an unlocked device. It won’t have the insane refresh rate or the superzoom feature, but it still has a three-lens camera system, a solid amount of storage, and an edge-to-edge display.
Also announced were some souped up Galaxy wireless earbuds. The predictably named Galaxy Buds+ get 11 hours of battery life, according to Samsung, with another 11 available from the charging case. That's a big leap from the first Samsung Icon buds, which had a measly 90 minutes or so of battery life.
And now, in addition to working with Samsung’s Android phones, they’re also compatible with iOS devices; good news for anyone with an iPhone who’s desperate to avoid AirPods. They do not, however, have active noise canceling. The Buds+ will cost $149 when they become available for preorder on February 14. They'll be in stores March 6, and we'll have a review soon.